Supreme Court Hears Important Consumer Rights Case
Case Affects Access to Justice, Competition in the Marketplace
Washington, DC—The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that could have serious implications for consumers’ access to justice and their right to hold corporations accountable for anti-competitive behavior.
The case, Comcast v. Behrend, alleges a classic example of a corporation monopolizing a market and overcharging its customers. Comcast is accused of violating the Sherman Act to corner the cable market in Philadelphia. Customers claim other cable providers were dissuaded from entering the market and Comcast charged its customers higher rates.
After the alleged monopoly scheme was uncovered, Philadelphia consumers filed a class-action lawsuit to force Comcast to play by the rules. Instead of accepting responsibility, Comcast has asked the Court to help it avoid accountability by blocking consumers from establishing class-action status. In this case, as with many antitrust cases, individual lawsuits are not a feasible option. The only way consumers can seek justice is by joining together. A ruling in favor of Comcast could construct an almost insurmountable hurdle for consumers and essentially immunize corporations from being held accountable for antitrust violations.
“When individuals are able to join forces, they can level the playing field and stand up to even the most powerful corporate interests to demand corporate accountability and fair business practices,” said American Association for Justice (AAJ) President, Mary Alice McLarty. “If this important legal protection is denied, Comcast and other corporations will be able to rip off consumers by manipulating the market and get away with it.”
Consumers and business owners who have fallen prey to monopoly schemes have the right to enforce antitrust laws themselves. Under the Sherman Act, they can hold corporations that violate the law accountable in the civil justice system. Antitrust class actions are a proven means for enforcing the law, compensating victims, and deterring violations. If Americans’ ability to access the civil justice system is limited, taxpayers will be left on the hook for the bill to prosecute all antitrust violations.
“The law was written so that people do not have to rely on the government to ensure market competition,” said McLarty. “If justice is denied in this case, a powerful deterrent will be lost at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.”
Comcast v. Behrend falls on the heels of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion – two of the latest barriers preventing Americans with similar claims or injuries from banding together as a class to receive justice and hold powerful interests accountable.
The Center for Constitutional Litigation filed an amicus brief on behalf of AAJ in support of the consumers. This brief can be found online here.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two major decisions on class actions that jeopardize consumer and worker rights:
- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes: Decided June 20, 2011, the Court made it substantially more difficult to establish class-action status in cases of widespread corporate wrongdoing.
- AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: Decided April 27, 2011, the Court ruled that major corporations can grant themselves immunity when they cheat consumers or employees by banning class actions in the fine print of contracts.